When Donald Nieman, dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, became the new provost of Binghamton University on July 1, there were a few whispers: “What, exactly, is a provost?”
Among the administration, there were the obligatory provost jokes. What? You didn’t know that the word “provost” used to mean prison warden?
So we asked Nieman, “What does a provost do?”
“The provost is the chief academic officer of the University, and academics are our core mission.”
Nieman is one of five vice presidents; the others are in charge of student affairs, research, administration and external affairs. The eight deans report to the provost.
“The provost leads the Division of Academic Affairs, which encompasses faculty and many of our staff; the recruitment, admission and success of our students; and our research and teaching facilities. As provost, I work closely with the other vice presidents to assure that we serve students effectively and build on Binghamton’s reputation for academic excellence.”
“A provost must understand how all the schools relate to one another, where investment needs to be made and how growth in one area affects another area.”
The mission of the Decker School of Nursing or the Watson School of Engineering is different from the mission of Harpur College, but all three schools have to talk to one another because nursing and engineering students must take courses in science and math as well as in the humanities, arts and social sciences.
“We’re investing $2.6 million in hiring new faculty in the coming year. Working with the deans, I have to decide where those faculty will be hired.”
“The provost has to create a culture in which the deans work well together.”
“That means learning as much as possible about the needs and cultures of the different schools and creating an environment where the deans collaborate. Our deans are not territorial. In some universities, if you don’t look out for your own interest, you’re a fool, but that isn’t what happens at Binghamton.”
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